A model of the Change Process

Although organizations are beset by many forces for change, it is important to reorganize that opposing forces act to keep an organization in a state of equilibrium. These opposing forces, then, support stability or the status quo. To understand how this works, let us take a look at a model of the change process that is based on the work of Kurt Lewin.

Force Field Analysis: According to the force field theory, every behavior is the result of an equilibrium between driving and restraining forces. The driving forces push one way; the restraining forces the other. The performance that emerges is a reconciliation of the two sets of forces. An increase in the driving forces might increase performance, but it might also increase the restraining forces.

Lewin’s model reminds us to look us look for multiple causes of behavior rather than a single cause. Programs of planned change based on ideas are directed first toward removing or weakening the restraining forces and then on creating or strengthening the driving forces that exist in organizations.

Sources of Resistance:

The restraining forces—the ones that keep an organization stable are of special interest, since they represent potential sources of resistance to planned change. If managers can change these forces or address their underlying concerns, they have a much better chance of accomplishing any planned change. For convenience, we will group these sources of resistance into three broad classes: the organizational culture, individual self interests and individual perceptions of organizational goals and strategies.

Organizational culture: Of the three forces culture may be the most important in shaping and maintaining an organization’s identity. Culture is a primary force in guiding employees’ behavior. As a general rule, employees stay with an organization because the work helps them meet their life goals and because their personalities, attitudes and beliefs fit into the organizational culture. Indeed, many employees identify with their organization and take its gains and losses personally. As a result, they may feel threatened by efforts to make radical changes in the organizations culture and ‘the way we do things.

Rapid growth at Waste Management, a $6 billion company that began less than 25 years ago has necessitated changes in the organizational culture to accommodate its size. People understand that we cannot operate like a small business [anymore] explained Don O Toole, manager of marketing and advertising. We are obviously a high-profile company with environmentalists. We have a vice-president environmental policy and ethical standards who watches this critical area full time. Increased size has not made the company sluggish however, rapid growth is still part of our culture O’Toole asserted. This is still a very exciting culture. We are not structure bound.

Changing demographics in the workplace has created anxiety for some members of the ‘old order’. In fact, as they hire and promote minorities and women some companies have experienced backlash by some white males who feel frustrated resentful and most of all afraid. This has been the case particularly at such companies as AT&T, DuPont and Motorola, where diversity is a major part of the organizational mission. To address this issue, DuPont established a “Men’s Forum” to help individuals come to terms with the changes in the organizations.

Self- Interests: Although employees can and do identify with their organizations, they are also concerned with themselves. In return for doing a good job they expect adequate pay, satisfactory working conditions, job security and certain amounts of appreciation, power and prestige. When change occurs employees face a potentially uncomfortable period of adjustment as they settle into a new organizational structure or a designed job.